Friday, October 16, 2009

Lala Har Dayal-an Enigma of a Revolutionary

The following article appeared in the online publication South Asia Post, Issue 97 Vol IV, October 15, 2009

I can vaguely recollect that name 'Har Dayal' had firstly got registered into the 'hard disc' of my memory when, soon after my joining the school in October 1948 I had started paying 'child-like' keener attention in 'overhearing' and somewhat incoherently 'co-relating' the conversations among the elderly of the family and their friends. I think that it was the reference to some 'supernatural gift of memory' - synonymous with intelligence and wisdom too - of an Indian 'who was got eliminated by the British out of fear of his 'divine' intellect!' The name of my father was also incidentally Har Dayal and he too was reputed to be a bit of an eccentric 'Vidwan', i.e. scholar, at a rather younger age, thanks to the strict discipline and dedication of Guru -grand father. This coincidence of a name inculcated a mysterious impression in my child mind that all intelligent and prescient persons, perhaps, posed some problems to the society and government! As education, modern as well the ancient has been mostly memory driven, the likes of Har Dayal - and my father - were rated to be the blessed ones.

It was in the winter in 1961 when I was a student of D.A.V. College, Jalandhar for my B.A. that I came to know about the 'real' Har Dayal. The college enormous reputation at that time for bagging top positions in the various examinations of Panjab University - the factor that made me cross over the Sutluj, to study at a distance of 80 km, without any adequate financial provsion my father could afford! I had taken up the newly introduced subjects of Sociology & Public Administration. A brand new lecturer who had just passed his M.A. in Political Science - standing Second (to the great dismay of college!) in the University was an amiable and friendly soul for a class of five - the select Panj Piare . The youthful Sikh professor, still more of a tudent and yet to cultivate the standard tricks of a seasoned - timber teacher, would try to inspire us to cultivate love of knowledge quoting from Lala Har Dayal's Hints For Self Culture. On my request, he was kind enough to provide me a copy of the book which I could read only in parts and found most of the contents rather complex!

It was in Bathinda in the summer of 1968, while teaching in a college that I could read Hints For Self Culture in its entirety. I could deeply appreciate the Olympian range and the vast perspectives of this spirited treatise of 'know all' - "to develop your personality as a free and cultured citizen". The author had invited, 'young men and women of all countries', in the preface datelined April 6934 A.H. - Anno Historiae -stating"...I may tentatively fix 5000 BC as the starting point of historical era...") ie 1934 A.D.,the year of publication of Hints For Self Culture by Watts and Company, London 'to follow the path of Rationalism' adding that if the book, "helps them in their efforts for self-improvement in the last degree, i shall be amply rewarded." I could note that the ideas of cosmopolitanism, humanism, rationalism and above all the scientific temperament were indeed the motivations behind Har Dayal's writing of this encyclopaedic Treatise. The book is available in paperback since late seventies and has run into several editions.

It was indeed a pleasant surprise for me to come across, on 2nd of September at an Open Book Stall during a Conference in Panjabi University, the edition in Punjabi, 'Swei-Vikas da Marg' translated by Prof. Achhru Singh, Nehru Memorial College, Mansa, Published by Lokgeet Prakashan, Sirhind. More surprising were the facts that the 1st edition had come out in 1991 and that the 4th edition of October 2000, 258 pages, was available at a resonable price of Rs. 100/-( P.B.) There was further a prominent report in the Punjabi Tribune on 13th September regarding the release at an impressive function at the Punjab Agricultural University , Ludhiana, attended by the Vice Chancellor & two former Vice Chancellors, of another translation in Punjabi of Hints for Self Culture. It is encouraging that the 75 year old seminal book on 'rationalism' and 'internationalism' should witness a fervour of interest in Punjab while the more open spiritual space so assiduously cultivated by Sufi Saints, Hindu Bhaktas and the Sikh Gurus has been continuously encroached upon by the practitioners of narrow sectarianism and religious hardliners!

As for my own further study of life and works of Lala Har Dayal, the book, 'Har Dayal, The Great revolutionary' by husband-wife, E. Jaiwant Paul & Shubh Paul (grand daughter of Har Dayal), Roli Books Pvt. Ltd., Delhi, 2003 was quite a revelation for me. The dazzling revolutionary and high priest of Ghadar Movement had taken a complete somersault in March 1919. In an open letter to a London journal, 'India', he publically avowed his conversion to, "the principle of imperial unity and progressive self-government ... within the Empire". This was followed by the more shocking booklet, 'Forty Four Months in Germany and Turkey', in which Har Dayal attacked the Germans as 'arrogant megalomaniacs ... unprincipled scoundrels' and praised 'British Character ... statesmanship ... historical mission in Asia'. The large circle of admirers of Har Dayal - 'a legend in India as an uncompromising revolutionary nationalist' - just could not believe all this. Frankly, I was not prepared to know from himl that, "The English are on the whole a truthful people ... England has a moral and historical mission in Asia ... British character and British statesmanship will preserve this structure for a long time ...". Har Dayal criticised the upper and middle class of India as, 'absolutely incapable and degenerate and unable to supply leadership.' There is no clear answer available to Har Dayal's strange change of mind except the conjectures of his concern for personal safety, failing health and the mention in a letter, 'I am despaired of the future of Indian nationalism; I want to work in other directions.'

I feel that life and times of Har Dayal need be understood in the more appropriate perspective. He was born on October 14, 1884 in the heart of old i.e. Mughal Delhi, near Chandni Chowk, next to what is still called Parathan Wali Gali. He was the sixth of the seven children of Gauri Dayal Mathur, a reader in the Delhi court & Bholi Rani. After schooling in Cambridge Mission School, he graduated from Saint Stephen college obtaining the second position in the Panjab University. He did M.A. in English from Government College, Lahore topping the University and followed it by doing M.A. in History. He was considered a rare phenomena for his extraordinary memory and excellence in scholarship. He was awarded state scholarship - Pound 200 per year for studying in England. As per practice at that time, he was married in 1901, while still a student, to Sundar Rani, daughter of Lala Gopal Chand,a wealthy Session judge in state of Patiala. Har Dayal left for England in 1905 to join Honours courses in Modern History in St John's College in Oxford. He impressed his teachers but also started visiting London to attend political meetings of Indian nationalists including Dadabhai Naoroji and Shyamji Krishna Varma, an associate of Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Meanwhile his wife had joined him and Har Dayal tried seriously but unsuccessfully to convert her into a political missionary. He became a close associate of Vir Savarkar & Shyamji.The 50th anniversary of 1857 was hailed by Savarkar as War of Independence and Har Dayal worked out a document , 'A Sketch of a Complete Political Movement for the Emanicipation of India'. Har Dayal resigned his state scholarship in mid 1907 and 'freed' himself by refunding voluntarily to the India Office 'the tainted money' - Rs. 485/- representing the amount the government had spent on on his passage to England! He gave up wearing English clothes and started moving about in Kurta and Dhoti, catching pneumonia and frequent bronchial disorders - "we are helpless before the fantastic obstinacy of Har Dayal", said Vir Savarkar. Har Dayal returned to India in January 1908 with the sick and pregnant wife by promptly encashing the single second class ticket sent by her father and instead buying two third class tickets!

During his seven months sojourn in India, Har Dayal met Bal Gangadhar Tilak who predicted that, 'he will soon develop into a major nationalist leader'. Based in Lahore, he tried 'to develop a broad base of political missionaries ... to carry on nationalist and revolutionary work'. He expressed disagreement with Lala Lajpat Rai over Arya Samaj stating that, 'our only religion is service of mankind ... either be a reformer or a revolutionary'. Though he never met - or even wrote about him - he was forerunner of Gandhi ji in stating, 'A nation ceases to maintain its entity and integrity if it begins to ape the manners ... of its masters ... the British educational system is one huge octopus which is sucking out the moral life blood of the nation'. It would appear that, 'in his quest for disassociation from the British, some of Har Dayal's actions bordered on the eccentric'. He had also turned anti-Christian and 'refused to see (Indian) people in European dress or communicate in the English language.' The British C.I.D. had put him & his group under strict Vigilance, particularly in the wake of killings by Khudi Ram Bose and P.C. Chaki in April 1908. Meanwhile, he was disowned by his father-in-law 'for destroying the life of his daughter' but remained closer to his brother Krishan Dayal. He was also in good relation with Dr Tara Chand (an eminent historian later), who was married to Sundar Rani's sister and acted as guardian of Sundar & daughter born on 8th of August. Though unwilling, Har Dayal had to leave India suddenly on 3rd August; slipping to Colombo, he managed to sail on an Italian ship to Naples.

Har Dayal reached Paris, where he met Bhikhaiji Cama; headed back to Oxford for over six months and was again in Paris to edit Bande Matramin in September 1909. He briefly went to Algeria and later moved to Martinique, a French island colony in the Caribbean. Bhai Parmanand, his old friend and fellow revolutionary from Lahore, went all the way to Martinique to meet Har Dayal.He could persuade him to go to Harvard University and make it centre for his work. Har Dayal reached the USA in early 1911, planning to study Buddhism at Harvard. Bhai Teja Singh, a prominent Sikh missionary, came down from California and was able to convince him that '... huge number of Indians needed leadership ... not only for social acceptance and economic equality in the U.S.A., but also as a force for India's national cause'. Har Dayal, however, headed for Hawaii to live an austere life of renunciation and 'preoccupation with Gautam Buddha and Karl Marx'. It was again Bhai Parmanand who reminded Har Dayal of the task awaiting him on the West Coast. The 'moody, needy and unfriendly Har Dayal', according to Emily Brown,the author of,' Har Dayal,A Hindu Revolutionary', found 'a compatible milieu in a university community in the United States ...' becoming friendly with with various celebrities lke Jack London, Irving Stone and Sanskritists like Dr Arthur W. Ryder.

Har Dayal, still just twenty eight year old, had a brief affair with a Swiss student and co-worker, Freida Hausworth but it was no diversion from the cause of 'Indian Nationalism'. The news of the bomb attack on the procession of Lord Hardine on December 23, 1912 made Har Dayal ecstatic and he wrote in Yugantar (New Era) calling bomb, 'Harbinger of hope and courage ... our resurrection ... triumphant cry of freedom on the Soil of Hindustan'. The founding of the Ghadar Party and the saga of Komagata Maru and Har Dayal's activities in the U.S.A. till July 1914 are well documented. After bitter experiences of 44months stay in Germany and Turkey during the war, he stayed in Sweden for nine years from October 1918. Based on an assurance by the Home Member that Har Dayal would not be prosecuted (for crimes on other soils), he, accompanied by the long live-in-companion Agda Erikson, arrived in London on October 10,1927. He steered clear of any political controversy and 'the man who had twenty years earlier spurned the state scholarship', studied for and obtained Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1930 for his thesis, The Bodhisattva Doctrine in Buddhist Sanskrit Literature.

Hints for Self Culture followed three yers later. Har Dayal's friends including Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru were still working hard for his safe return to India though Har Dayal himself had never requested for a trip to India. Finally, on October 25,1938, a letter was sent to Har Dayal granting permission to return to India. He and Agda were travelling to the U.S.A. for a series of Lectures by him and were scheduled to return in April 1939. Har Dayal died in sleep on March 4,1939, aged 55 years ... 'the evening before, he had ... concluded (his last lecture) with the words, 'I am at peace with my self ''.

For me, Jaiwant and Shubh Paul's book has long last put at rest many myths and doubts about the cult figure of Har Dayal. After my retirement, I had mentioned to my Professor of D.A.V. College days referred to earlier that time has indeed come to bring out an updated, New Hints For Self Culture. My class fellow of D.A.V. vintage and dedicated scholar of lives of revolutionaries of india, Prof Jagmohan Singh, enlightened me how Har Dayal had become a votary of 'Hindutava Nationalism' and a 'comrade in arms' of V.D. Savarkar. I also came across a lengthy quote of 1925 attributed to Har Dayal in B.R. Ambedkar's article on Pakistan declaring, "that the future of Hindu Race, of Hindustan and of the Panjab rests on four pillars: Hindu Sangathan; Hindu Raj; shuddhi of Muslims and conquest and shuddhi of Afghanistan and the Frontiers ... At present English officers are protecting the frontiers; but it cannot always be ...". Bhai Parmanand had talked much earlier of a separate area for all Muslims of India beyond river Sindh with Hindu population coming out from there! Why so much fuss over Jaswant Singh's book on Jinnah - the Question is much larger than lives of Gandhi, Patel, Nehru, Jinnah and Rajagopalachari or Ambedkar! The distinguished modern historian Shahid Amin calling Har Dial, "The Good Terrorist" asks: how do we reassess our "our good terrorists of the colonial period? He himself says that 'the power of successful nationalisms explains it all!

Let Har Dayal, once a volcano of ideas about future of India, rest in peace in the distant Swedish soil of Agda! My father Har Dayal, no lesser a proud scholar and tragic figure in his own right, had also successfully courted death at the age of 58: all human brilliance ultimately gets reckoned in the balance of Destiny !

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Revisiting school - Five decades later

The following article appeared in the online publication South Asia Post, Issue 95 Vol IV, September 15, 2009
The year 2009 has been curiously needling my mind about the days, months and years spent in my two schools. It was  full five decades ago that I passed my Matriculation Examination from Mahatma Gandhi Memorial National High School, Ahmedgarh, a grain market town situated about 20 km south of Ludhiana, Punjab. I have no hesitation in confessing that it was Master Ashni Kumar, my English & Social Studies teacher and Guru till he breathed his last in 1993, who made all the difference in life for me. I was back in my school on this 4th of September, to share the memories and impressions of my years in the same school with the present students. 
It is indeed so interesting to recall how an unusual happening had brought me to the attention of Ashni Kumar, a senior teacher, when I was a student of fifth class. Sohan Lal Joshi, a much younger teacher, considered bit of a maverick, had become a popular figure in our town by playing the role of Gandhi Ji in the drama staged in the school. He had awarded me 75 out of 75 in the paper of Geography in the December House Examination in 1953. This became a talk of the school because full marks were generally considered possible only in Mathematics.
Headmaster Hari Krishan Dutt, a staunch Gandhian and President of the Congress Party of Tehsil Malerkotla, had introduced the social service day on Saturdays for students from fifth to tenth classes along with their teachers. All used to work on a project of leveling and earth work of a 5 km stretch of a path to be linked to the main Ludhiana-Malerkotla road. It was during one of this work and fun session that my class-in-charge teacher Baldev Singh Maudgil asked Master Ashni Kumar if a student can be awarded full marks in subjects of social studies like Geography. Ashni Kumar unexpectedly asked, "But who is the student?" I was soon located and presented before this skeleton-thin bespectacled man who had a reputation in the area as a strict but most competent teacher of English & Social Studies. He asked my name and advised me to meet him later, when I would be in the sixth class, studying in the other building of the school used for higher classes.
As to the secret of my full score in the paper of Geography, I might explain that I had happened to read some parts of the text book of Geography belonging my uncle, a student of tenth class. The topics about the Himalayas, the ocean, sea ports, the land surface of India, forests, etc were the same as of my class. I had written my answers in greater detail than what teacher had dictated to us in the class notebooks! Ashni Kumar invited me to join the Literary Circle in the school, started by him. He guided and encouraged me to participate in the programmes of the school on Republic Day, Gandhi Jayanti, Children's Day, etc. In my eighth class, I was selected to participate in a debate in the school broadcast programme of the All India Radio, Jullundur. It was a uniquely joyful and significant experience for me. To my great surprise, I was paid Rupees 7 and 50 Paise by All India Radio for my two and a half minute participation! The amount was presented to me at school function on 14th November, 1957.
Ashni Kumar became my teacher of English & Social Studies for ninth & tenth classes. I was awarded Two Rupees by him for obtaining the highest marks in English in the very first test, the September Test, of ninth class. When he later asked me what did I do with the money, I told him that I had bought a book of general knowledge. He asked me to show it to him. It was a large and well bound - Gyan Sarovar (pool of knowledge) - brought out by Publication Division, Government of India. He glanced through the book, kept it, and at once gave me a note of Two Rupees saying, "You may buy another one", which I did. Later for many, many years, this book remained my favorite gift item for friends, with price continuing to soar as high as Rupees Fifty!
I remember how he had given special coaching to us - a group three select students - during one month of the long summer vacations. He taught us how to read 'The Tribune' newspaper; the word 'coup d'├ętat' was added to our vocabulary on 15th July 1958 in the context of the bloody overthrow of monarchy in Iraq! He guided me, as a class monitor, to write a letter to the publisher, requesting supply of Test Papers by VPP - explaining what Value Payable Parcel implied! When in the tenth class I was selected to play for the District Cricket Team and was required to attend the ten day coaching camp, he arranged that I could appear in the December Test later at his home provided I did not 'see' the question papers - and I complied with his instruction!
My Matriculation Examination over in March 1959, he would call me to his home to recheck the totals, etc of the university papers of Geography that he was evaluating. He made me read a few of the best attempted papers asking if I had also written similar answers. Incidentally, I obtained 50 out of 60 in Geography, 83.3 % - quite okay by the standard of those days. Since I was never a top scorer in Math, my score of 660 marks (79.8%) was considered commendable. It required a lot of courage of conviction on my part to opt for pursuing the stream of Humanities in college. I think that Ashni Kumar, and also my father, approved knowing my over all interests - distant dream being woven around academics, and of course the Administrative Services.
It is interesting to recall that Arun Kumar of D.A.V. High School, Gurdaspur had topped the list of successful candidates with 751 marks out of a total of 850. Usha Anand of Alexandra High School, Amritsar had stood first among the girl candidates obtaining 724 marks. As per the result declared on Tuesday June 16 1959, the total number of candidates who appeared in the examination was 123,287, out of which 68,406 had passed. One would wonder where the two toppers are today. Kanwal Sibal and Ashok Bhan of the Punjab University Matriculation class of 1959 have respectively occupied the prestigious positions of the Foreign Secretary of India and Justice of the Supreme Court of India.
I should mention that I had started my schooling in September 1949 joining the District Board (soon named Goverment) Primary School in village Sohian situated in what was then still called Angrezi Ilaqa, a couple of kilometres from my native village falling in Riyasati Ilaqa of erstwhile state of Malerkotla. It was a two room kutcha-mud-structure with two teachers for the four classes, with about 60 students. At the time of my admission, the head teacher Pandit Lachhman Dass had asked my father, "Vaid Ji, do you want the boy to pursue higher education or you would prefer him to take up service sooner?" I recall distinctly that my father had politely replied, "We wish that he should go for as much higher studies as he can." The practical wisdom - or trick - perhaps, was that if someone was keen on seeking a job soon after Matriculation, his date of birth could be put in a year that would make him closer to eighteen years, the minimum age for entry into Government service!  In my case, I think that I have to be beholden to the wise head teacher of the village for bestowing an extra year of service at one of the highest levels of the Government of India!
I had joined M.G.M.N. High School, Ahmedgarh in May 1951 in the 3rd grade. The town seemed to me to be surcharged with an atmosphere of patriotic fervor in the wake of recently won freedom of India. The school was indeed the playground for local politicians and also the centre of cultural activities of the town. The Kavi Darbars by the local Sahit Sabha, Ram Lila, and regular discourses/Kirtans by visiting saints & Munis, etc was mostly held in the school ground. A number of new teachers were migrants from Pakistan and students found their accent of Punjabi quite alien and even funny; they would often imitate their styles. A young socialist leader, Tek Chand Diwana, had used the Gandhian weapon of fast unto death in October 1955 over his demand that the committee for managing the school should be democratically elected. The Deputy Commissioner of Sangrur, Satya Dev Bhambri - slim and in simple dress - resolved the problem by conceding the demand and offered a glass of juice to the fasting Gandhian! My father, pointing towards him, had told me that he had qualified the examination of Independent India's new top service called IAS and that his father was a small-time shopkeeper!!

When I look back in 'Wordsworthian' tranquility and reflect over memories of my magical school times, millions of, 'diyas' - tiny earthen lamps - get lit up… The morning of my IAS, etc result … my name among the successful candidates … I come home and touch the feet of my father who says, "Bal, please do go to Master Ashni Kumar Ji, before you get busy." I reply, "I have already visited Master Ji before coming home to you."… "Well done, my boy … when a tree grows taller and bigger, many would come to rest under its shade and many would appreciate its fruit … but the tree must remember the gardener who nursed and looked after it when it was a tiny plant!"